November 12, 2021
Listen Now: Creating a “house of discernment” with Sr. Carol Kandiko, CSA
In our November episode, we are joined by Sr. Carol Kandiko, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and co-director of Centering Space. Founded in 2003, Centering Space is a place where people are invited to “come and listen to their own heart and hear the voice of God.” Located in a house on the campus of Lakewood Catholic Academy and the grounds of Lakewood Park, Centering Space provides an open and welcoming environment with programs like weekly reflective prayer, a variety of spiritual programs and gatherings, and even a library of resources. To visit Centering Space is to take time out of your day for quiet and listening.
Sr. Carol talks about the mission and history of Centering Space, as well as the ways she has found community and opportunity for stewardship in what she describes as “a house of discernment.” With Centering Space celebrating its 18th anniversary on November 1st, this episode is a special tribute to Centering Space and the community that has grown around it. We are excited to offer this conversation and hope it provides space for reflection in each of us.
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Conversation with Sr. Carol Kandiko, CSA
(Season 2, Episode 8)
Rachel Drotar, Generative Spirit program coordinator, for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, hosted Season 2, Episode 8 of the monthly Generative Spirits: Conversations with Catholic Sisters podcast.
Following is an edited transcript of her conversation with Sr. Coarol Kandiko, CSA, about Centering Space.
Sr. Carol Kandiko, CSA
One of the men who has been coming [to Centering Space] is John Carlson. If anyone knows him, I want to raise up his name. He wrote this poem ages ago, which we have posted in the office and it’s going to go down in public art space. It is:
Human race, what a pace. In the chase. In your face. Need a rest. Quiet place. Full of grace. God’s embrace. Centering Space.
Well, let's get started. Welcome Sister Carol Kandiko. I'm really excited to see you. I know that we've worked together in the past as a board member at Centering Space and had a few conversations about the origins of how Centering Space got started, but I'm excited that you're here and you took the time to be in this space with us.
Well, I'm glad you're here. And to start us off, I would love for you to talk a little bit about the mission of Centering Space. What is it? Who is welcome? And what the mission is.
Our mission is based on welcoming. The charism of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine is expressed "in all things charity." And the mission at Centering Space is that everyone should be welcome. Nobody will be disinvited. People are welcome to come. We state that in the mission that we invite them to listen, to come to a quiet space, to come to a welcoming space where they can listen to their own heart, listen to what God is saying to them personally, and respond from their heart.
We really make it a place where the door is open, come in and make yourself comfortable. Be welcome, be family when you get here. We don't proselytize. We're not trying to convert anybody to anything. We're trying to invite people to find what God is calling them to and we don't pretend to know what that might be. We do offer a variety of programs and prayer experiences, mostly to get people to notice that we are a place where it's safe to come meet us so that when they come on their own they will feel like we’re old friends.
That's something that I really love about being involved in Centering Space. I think that there's this openness that is provided not just in what you say or what you put on your website, but really the community that's formed there. You say our doors are always open. And you're right. Whenever I've been there, someone is there to welcome you in. Someone is there to say sit down, have a cup of tea. It's really a great way to welcome all kinds of people. There is a dedicated focus to spirituality and there is a dedicated focus to community. To do that in a way that is really open and inclusive is, I think, a unique trait of centering space.
I think we really are unique in that. We've tried to find other similar places that we could relate to as peers and exchange great ideas. As hard as we keep looking over our country, we have not found any place that's quite like us, which I guess is how God has made each individual person totally unique. And in our case, especially, we're not quite a retreat house. We're definitely not a church. We're not quite anything, but we are little bits of maybe an entranceway for people to become comfortable with their own church or to have an individual retreat that’s not canned. It's just them and God being in communication together. It's fun. It's enlivening. As we grow, it's becoming more work than Betsy and I seem able to carry on by ourselves, but we're doing well. We are thriving, and we are so grateful to the people who do come.
I'm curious about the ways that Centering Space has changed. You said that we've been growing and you'd have different offerings for people that want to come in and it can be as structured or unstructured as they desire. I'm wondering how it's changed from what started. I would love for you to tell me the story of how it started. I've heard again, just bits and pieces, but to talk about how you were involved. Who else was involved in its origins and just why it came to be.
Centering Space as a ministry began 18 years ago. Centering Space as a dream in the heart of a gathering of people would have begun at least three or four years before that. The Sisters of Charity gathered. Besides a handful of us, sisters from other communities and lay people who were interested in answering the question, “What are the unmet needs of the people that we serve?” I think it's worth mentioning that the group itself, I was not a part of that group. The group came up with the idea of homeless men who would be hospitalized and then sent home where they had none. So the idea, the dream for creating Joseph's Home in downtown Cleveland, very near St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, was conceived in this group and became a reality just before we did.
The group, the committee of dreamers of what else can we do for God's people, kept going even though they had started that seed and it was moving. They came up with the idea that there were people who really needed a place to discern God's will. There was some talk about doing it for the Sisters of Charity or for other religious communities to have such gatherings. I had been away on a sabbatical. When I came back, they asked me to join the group. I was there at the end for the final formation, where we decided a house of discernment, not just for sisters, not just for religious, not just for Catholics, but for anybody who was seeking to know the will of God. I always have a bit of a challenge with that will of God, but the love of God. Where is God calling me? Not so much that God wants this for me, but if I do this, God will be there no matter. Anyway, we had determined that this was the ministry we wanted to start.
The sisters have this wonderful house on the campus of what is now Lakewood Catholic Academy. Actually, they came into being about the same time that we moved into what was the chaplain’s home. It was built in 1900 for the chaplain to our mother house, which was on this property next door to Lakewood Park. It's a wonderful, wonderful spot. And the sisters said, “Okay, take it over and turn it into what you're dreaming of.” It took us a good year to take care of all the details of moving into the space and making it our own.
We began in the fall of 2003, so that's 18 years ago. There were five of us, Three Sisters of Charity, myself, Sister Mary Jean Euchre and Sister Marian Andrews. And, Ursuline Sister Jeanette Kearns was very much a part of us and there was a lay woman and I cannot remember her name and I do apologize. She was there for the planning, but was not able to stay. Shortly thereafter, another lay woman did join us. Her name is Peggy Arabic. So we were the five founding members for this ministry. I think of it as Jesus walking along the shores of Galilee and saying, “Come see. Come and see what we offer. Come and join us.”
I remember in the very beginning we started by having a prayer, which we call reflective prayer. It uses bits of other kinds of prayers. It's still going strong. We designed it to be an hour, where people would gather, we would set a theme and one of us would lead. What kind of prayer is it?
So it borrows a bit from lectio. Thank you. It's not exactly that format, but it includes some music as something that follows the theme. And there's quiet time, which is really the heart of the whole prayer. We give some clues as to where you might want to go. It's always whoever gathers, it's what's in your heart, how you speak to God or God speaks to you. We gather in a circle and after about 45 minutes of this quiet sharing, there's an open sharing. And then after the circle, there's fellowship in the kitchen. All of that has stayed for us this whole time. In the beginning, I love this part of the story, in the very beginning, we said to each other, “Boy, we have to welcome people. We have to make sure they feel at home.” It was many weeks into the program that we kind of stood back and said, “Look, the people are welcoming each other. We don't have to worry about that part.” And it was beautiful. There were many sisters who came. There were many lay people who began to join us from the beginning and who really found comfort in this circle of prayer of quiet prayer together.
We would say to each other, “You know, you can do that at home, you can sit in quiet prayer at home. But there is something about doing it in a circle that keeps you there.” At home, the phone rings and you get up and answer the phone. At home, you remember that you didn't write this on the grocery list and you get up. So trying to keep yourself quiet for even 10 minutes—and it's about 10 minutes that that we do it and three times 10 minutes. When you're with others, you just sort of feel the presence of God in that circle and it helps. Not everybody likes our form of prayer. Some people have come and said that's nice. And many have come and have stayed with us.
It is a staple of Centering Space. It is kind of what people think of if they've been there for a while. They say this is this is part of the DNA. And I wonder in your opinion, how such a simple form of prayer has survived for so long. I think the silence has something to do with it what's really found in the listening. There's something in the community of it all that feels like family, feels like relationships can be evolving, even if the process is consistent and simple. What do you think about that?
It was interesting to me that one of the thoughts that we threw out before we even started is when people come should we make them sign a commitment that they will keep on coming and we threw that out. I think it was originally some idea like a community of religious, you know that you make a commitment for so long and should we require people to make a commitment. We did not and we did not need to at all because those who feel the attraction for what we have here definitely are committed without signing any paper. Again through 18 years, it's been interesting. Just some of the things. There are people who have come and then moved away and said can we take this format with us to our new place? Can we do this because it's so simple? Be open. Be loving. Be gathering.
Then there are people who for a variety of reasons are not able to come back and yet years later, they will contact us. They're still a part of us in heart and there are some who do come back.
COVID was a challenge. We thought—if I can go off in this little tangent. We thought oh boy what are we going to do? We need to be in person. We need that circle. We can't do this prayer unless we're in person in a circle. After about three or four weeks of really missing it, we said we got to try Zoom. Zoom multiplied our outreach, obviously, across the country. Then, as you can imagine, the challenge of being able to come back in person, now what do we do because the people in California and New York cannot come back in person? So our current challenge is keeping the one circle because they know each other and they love each other. We now have a group that meets in person and a group that meets on Zoom at the same time. Our house setting is very comfortable. To try to put those two groups together literally, the machinery, the IT involved would really change the sense of the house because we're a house that welcomes people. We're not a business. We don't have a large meeting room where people sit in rows and listen. When we gather, we gather in a circle. What came up over time was to get people to try to know us, we started doing programs. So, pick a theme to talk about. Currently, Thomas Merton is a good one. What kinds of prayer are they? Let's have a program where anyone who wants to come and learn about a topic that is close to God's heart, they would come to the house and we would again sit in our circle so it wasn't like a classroom, but it was an adult sharing and adult learning experience. We have a bigger group. It's still a group of adults sharing. Learning and sharing at the same time.
When you talk about it's not a business, it's a place where people gather and can share, and that you sit in a circle not just for that reflective prayer, but even the thing that could be the most “businessy”—board meetings—are still in a circle. Board meetings are set up in the same way a program would be because it is about gathering community and less about running a business. I think that shows when there are decisions that need to be made or when someone is trying to create a retreat at Centering Space, the listening is integrated into every part of it. When I think about you as one of the co-directors with Betsy, when I think about your work at Centering Space and how much reflection is so deeply part of your life. I'm wondering what led you to this kind of work? Did you have a history of being in mindful, thoughtful discernment work before? How did you get to the point where you became the steward of a place for people to discern God's will?
For me personally, I started out teaching and moved into parish ministry and sacred preparation in that. But somewhere along the line, and I can't I can't even trace this, I started doing retreats at Mount Augustine, which is our mother house, for the sisters and for lay people, mostly women who had come in during the day for retreats. Not consciously, but I was called in that direction because people came and I would say, “Well, I'm growing in my knowledge of whatever and I'll share with you what I've got so far.” And people really came and enjoyed it and asked for more. So at one point, I went back to school for a degree in spirituality. And that sort of prepared me for where I am today. It's interesting because there's not a whole lot you can do with a degree in spirituality. But, if we do the will of God, which I think is really the love of God, was preparing me for being called to this kind of ministry. I am a certified spiritual director. That's something that we do not just me, but we have other directors or spiritual companions, who meet their people in this place. We do have retreats. Most of them are personally directed or you can bring your own director in. Or, the really neat thing that happened just last week was two of our sisters came and directed each other. It was really innovative, I guess we could say, but it was good. People will just come for the day. Some people just come in to connect, come in and sit.
One of the questions I wanted to ask you is what Centering Space really offers for people if they're interested in doing this? Where can they find their entry point? You mentioned a couple already, that you offer retreats, you offer a place for spiritual direction and your reflective prayer. But, what's your kind of pitch speech for people to come and say this is what we offer and how you can visit us?
It comes again to come and see, but every two months we list all the things that you've just talked about, which are we have the space, come and use it in any way that is useful to you. You mean I can just come? Yes, yes you can just come. I love it, when we do have programs and people who know us just walk in, go to the kitchen, make themselves a cup of coffee and sit down to enjoy what the program is. I feel the space is what we're all about. We have outside programs. We have a drumming circle when the weather is okay. We have Taize prayer, which began at River's Edge and moved over here. Mike Reiling, who runs the Taize program, approached the Baptist pastor in town [Lakewood, Ohio] and so our Thanksgiving Taize is going to be hosted at the Lakewood Baptist Church. So the idea of ecumenical or interfaith is, it's just growing. It's fun because, periodically, someone who comes thinks we're all Catholic. We've had programs. Alan Koch is a Quaker. He teaches at Baldwin Wallace, and he has done programs here. Rabbi Enid Lader has come and done some marvelous programs for us. I can't even begin to describe all the people. It's opening our hearts. We're all God's people. We might have different denominations in which we find ourselves centered, but that doesn't exclude our neighbors. It doesn't exclude the other people who walk with us and do whatever.
It's clear that the collaborative work that you do is in real time building a beloved community, and building a community that we would want to be in any way. We want to build it for ourselves. When all of the kind of interfaith collaborations are mentioned, I'm looking on the website right now for all of the events and to talk about Thomas Merton who is a member of the Quaker community, to talk about questions and musings of my own life with someone that does not belong to my faith tradition, but really does. We believe in something extremely similar, if not the same, to get to a place of that listening or place of that discernment.
I think we live in neighborhoods that are definitely integrated spiritually. I don't think many of us live in a Catholic conclave right now. But we can feel that sometimes. So in the neighborhood, we do all kinds of social things with our neighbors and don't bring up religion. Here we can do both. We can say how we find God, without saying, “Well, you better find God the same way I do. Or, you know, you need to worship God the same way I do." But to say, "oh, that's wonderful, that's good for you. And you are a loving person. And I'm a loving person. And here we are God's family.” Hopefully people go back to their church and most do, although we do have some unchurched people who are comfortable here, but go back with an increased sense of the neighborhood of God and not just the only people that I can talk to are the people that that I worship with, because that's not real. To bring religion into your everyday life, I think it's really great.
I like the way that you put that, the neighborhood of God, your neighborhood of God. There's something really true about not just socializing, but also talking about our own spiritualities with people within our community because it is so diverse. It is so layered. I think that's what makes Centering Space an interesting place. There's little to no expectation that you have the same faith experience that I do. To feel like I can walk in and even on days I feel disconnected from my spirituality, I’m welcome. Even on days that I feel like I'm disconnected from my community in general, I can have a place that I can land. It makes me feel really good about being a member of that space. And to do it in a way and in a place that is so beautiful, it feels like home. It feels really comfortable. It's by the lake. That's something that is also a unique aspect of it.
Some people have said that we need to have some sort of ministry focus for centering the space. Knit gloves for homeless children or whatever. We were challenged along the way. We had to pull back and say our focus is on spirituality. We care deeply and people who come now will share a need in their parish or in their other ministry. If I can use an example, Tim Walters, who was on our board for a long time, works with the homeless, down in the west side of Cleveland. People bring stuff here for him to pick up to take there. It's not that we do it, it’s not a side mission or ministry of Centering Space, but it's the person-to-person interaction. Somebody will come and say, “I have a neighbor. I know of this situation that needs bedding for children,” and all of a sudden the people bring it. So that's not our focus at all, but it's what happens when people who love people get together.
I'm looking at the time and I'm wondering if there's anything else that you would like to add before we end things.
I would say I find my own spirituality to have been so enriched with this last 18 years. I would share a tiny bit of history for me. There were five of us in the very beginning and within the first six years, the others, all but one, went home to God. They thought that would be a better community I guess, and I'm sure it is. We were down to, at one point, myself and Peggy and then Peggy had to quit. Then there were volunteers who worked with me. We were keeping this together on a string. It’s only in the last five or six years that we pulled ourselves up. We got a board going because there was no board in the beginning so there was nothing to carry through. We are now at a point of saying this is good, the people love it. We need to be able to keep this going into the future because it's good. It's different. It's unique. Our dream would be that at some point, I think everybody knows the sisters are fewer than they have been in the past and some of us are aging, that the laity [are more involved]. It's so important that it's not the hierarchy. It's not the ministers and the sisters and the people who we have always looked to who can do spirituality. Yes, they can. But, I like that you like the neighborhood. The idea that we are each other's brothers and sisters. We are each other's people who care and who can build up the spirituality of one another. When I say unique, I'm not saying there aren’t a lot of places like this in the world. I believe places like Centering Space are growing up and at some point may connect and become a network of spiritual places. I hope that Centering Space will be a part of that network into the future.
I would say to anybody who's listening to the podcasts, come and see. We're in Lakewood. We're right next to Lakewood Park. We are a century home. It's just a large, wonderful three-story brick building on the campus of Lakewood Catholic Academy right next to Lakewood Park. And the door is open. So come on in. You're always welcome. We'll give you a cup of coffee, a cup of tea and share stories.
Well, thank you so much for telling that story. And for joining me today. I appreciate it. Thanks so much.
Thank you Rachel. It was challenging, but it was good.